Mapping Unchartered Territory: Ecuador's Journey to Sustainable Palm Oil

Mathilde Birn & Sanne Qvarfordh

Student thesis: Master thesis


The importance of sustainable development is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. As a major contributor to the negative impact on the environment, the agricultural sector must be part of such transformation. This requires multiple stakeholders coming together with the purpose of constructing a viable solution. This has led to a surge of sustainability certifications. However, the legitimacy of such certifications has been called into question as they have failed to produce widespread impact thus far. Within the palm oil sector, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has developed a new approach to achieve certification on a larger scale, the so-called Jurisdictional Approach (JA). Ecuador is one of the pilots for this initiative, committing to certify its palm oil sector nation-wide before 2025. In this study, the telecoupling theory is applied to map out Ecuador’s commitment to the jurisdictional approach. Findings show that this commitment is explained by the country’s desire to position itself internationally as a sustainable source for commodities; the need for a solution which encompasses the challenges facing smallholders; and the country’s readiness for such an initiative. While great potential is identified, this initiative faces risks to its success. These include: a lack of funding; political de-prioritisation; resistance from smallholders; greenwashing; insufficient monitoring and evaluation; and limited demand for certified palm oil. In response to these risks, high-level recommendations for their mitigation are discussed. Furthermore, an overarching recommendation of ensuring inclusive certification governance is outlined. These suggestions contribute to the development of the jurisdictional approach in Ecuador, as well as the implementation and beyond.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages130
SupervisorsKristjan Jespersen